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The Empowerment Initiative


Policy Ideas

AEI Event 

About the Empowerment Initiative

Too many Americans are trapped on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Conservatives believe that every individual deserves the opportunity to improve their economic circumstances, escape from poverty, and achieve their full potential. This notion that everyone has the God-given right to the pursuit of happiness is embodied in our Declaration of Independence. Instead of trapping individuals in a cycle of poverty, government should clear obstacles and encourage all to rise and achieve the American dream.

The Republican Study Committee continues to lead the way toward turning this positive vision into action. The RSC Empowerment Initiative, led by Representatives Andy Barr and Todd Young, is a task force of RSC members focused on combating poverty and reforming the welfare system to empower individuals, families, and communities. The reforms recommended by this proposal would restore the opportunity to pursue prosperity for millions of Americans.


  • Eliminate Marriage Penalties: If a low-income person receiving government assistance marries an employed person, their welfare benefits would be reduced or eliminated, sometimes by an amount larger than income of the employed spouse. These policies encourage broken families. The RSC recommends that Congress take steps to eliminate these penalties against the single best antipoverty measure: marriage and a stable family structure.
  • Restore and Implement Work Requirements: Building on the success of the 1996 welfare reforms, all federal benefit programs should be reformed to include work promotion requirements that would help people move away from dependence and toward self- sufficiency. Programs would be strengthened with such incentives. To be eligible for benefits, able-bodied adults without dependents would be required to work or be preparing for work, including participating in educational or job training programs, community service, or a supervised job search.
  • Reform the Earned Income Tax Credit: The tax credit should be simplified. Allowing the credit to be paid concurrently with a paycheck (rather than once per year under current law), in addition to reducing the difficulty of filing a claim, could help simplify the program and reduce low-income individuals’ reliance on paid tax preparers, who often file fraudulent overclaims. Paying the credit over a monthly schedule will also improve monthly budgeting for Americans, rather than embracing the habit of spending an entire tax refund at once on a luxury.
  • Food Stamp Reform: This proposal recommends that the House Agriculture Committee put forward legislation that would authorize the food stamp program as a block grant to the states, with funding subject to the annual appropriations process. Nutrition assistance funds would be distributed to states based on a formula that accounts for poverty and unemployment in each state. States would have flexibility to administer their own programs, subject to the common sense requirements outlined below, and supplement federal funds with state funds.
  • Federal Housing Reform: The federal government spends over $50 billion per year on housing assistance and development programs.The two largest programs, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance, provide subsidies for tenants to pay rent and for housing units to be subsidized. These programs are in much need of reform, as evidence suggests that beneficiaries “do not experience substantial improvement in education or earnings” while receiving assistance.